How to Practice Centering Prayer

“In 1987 I first came across the fourteenth century text and foundational text for Centering Prayer, The Cloud of Unknowing and I knew then that I’d found something I was looking for – a way to enter the sacred, a direct approach to God, and something that I believed would deepen my experience of meeting for worship:

‘Do not pray with words unless you feel you really must’ and ‘…look that nothing remains in your conscious mind but a naked intent stretching unto God, not clothed in any particular thought about God – what he is like in himself or in any of his works – but only that he is as he is.

Having practised Centering Prayer for over six years, I realise that it has become an essential element of my Quakerism. Once a week meeting for worship isn’t enough! For me, the method provides a structured and supported approach to the daily discipline that I need to open more deeply to the life of the Spirit. I do not consider myself an expert in Centering Prayer. The practice can be challenging and often I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere, so I’m heartened by the advice ‘You just have to show up,’ that is, stick to the daily practice.

The theory and practice of Centering Prayer has illuminated for me what early Friends described and the method has provided a structured way to enter more deeply into the experience of being Quaker. It’s a practice that’s about letting go into God, a practice that deepens and sheds light on my experience of life and, I hope, grounds how I am in the world. The last few years have brought several major life events for me and I know that it’s been the experience of the Centering Prayer that has helped keep me grounded – the assurance that there is something firm beneath my everyday experience. I’ve learnt about the fundamental premise of Centering Prayer: surrender, or, more truthfully, ‘being surrendered’ to what is. It’s a deep acceptance, not a resignation to but an embracing of what is, in my own life and in the world, with all its pain and the sadness as well as joy and hope.

While Centering Prayer is primarily a personal spiritual practice and is different from meeting for worship it has deepened my experience of meeting for worship. The practice, the teachings and the way of life Centering Prayer nurtures is, as far as I understand it, entirely compatible with my Quaker faith. It’s one way of approaching closer to that mystery, one which is there in Jesus’ teaching and in what early Quakers discovered. I believe I’ve found something of value that I feel led to share – something that takes me to the heart of my Quaker faith.”

— Rosemary Field, 2024
Centering Prayer: Encounter and Experience,” Woodbrooke

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What is your process for centering in worship?

To be right here, right now. I focus on an intersection of a vertical and horizontal line as if it were a timeline. Everything to the left of center is the past and I cannot change that. Everything to the right of center is the future and I don't know what that will be. The intersection of regret and fear or the intersection of remembering and hope. The center is a point of now, a point of awareness and a point of connecting to God in everything. The center is a point of gratitude for what is right now.

Michele D., Ruther Glen, VA, USA
I seldom reach [centeredness] these days.

Due to feelings of responsibility regarding community tensions and our drop in attendance, my thoughts seem stuck in “worry.”

I remember earlier times of experiencing a pathway between my “to-do” list on the left and my “dreams for the future” on my right. When I could keep walking ON the path, a deep purple light appeared before me and I joyfully walked into it, wrapping its light around myself.

Judy B., Haddon Heights, NJ, USA

What is your relationship with silence and stillness?

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